With the coronavirus pandemic, telehealth has certainly been front and center. For certain areas of our healthcare system, telehealth is faster, safer, less expensive and often more effective, which benefits both providers and patients in the long run.
Two federal grant projects within the College of Nursing and Health Professions were able to secure additional funding for telehealth initiatives through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program
The USI Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP), a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is utilizing a CARES grant in the amount of $90,625 to integrate telehealth technology into the academic curriculum and to bridge the medical and social care provided to older adults in southwestern Indiana.
Dr. Katie Ehlman, GWEP Director and Professor of Gerontology, said the CARES funding has provided two types of telehealth kits (one for on-demand medical visits and the other for remote patient monitoring) for academic programs at USI, University of Evansville and the Southwest Indiana Area Health Education Center’s Scholars Program. The kits, widely used in the region with GWEP’s partner, Deaconess Health System, will allow for a more hands-on opportunity for students to use this technology, which is now a very critical component of healthcare delivery in the age of COVID-19.
The USI GWEP also collaborated with the Indiana Rural Health Association’s Upper Midwest Telehealth Resource Centerto help USI’s academic programs integrate telehealth. The UMTRC is one of the 14 federally funded Telehealth Resource Centers (TRCs) under the Office for the Advancement of Telehealth (OAT), which is part of the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORP). As part of the USI GWEP’s CARES grant, Becky Sanders and her team at UMTRC provided consultative services in the form of discipline-specific training and curriculum to USI faculty.
In addition to enhancing Deaconess Clinic’s existing remote patient monitoring program, the CARES Act funding is supporting a pilot telehealth program with the two Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), distributing telehealth technologies to elders without traditional access to their primary care physicians.
Primary Care Grant
Another HRSA-funded grant in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, the Primary Care Grant, received $78,571 in CARES funding to provide training and equipment for rural primary care offices in telehealth.
Dr. Tracy Kinner, Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing and one of the primary investigators, said the Primary Care Grant team is developing clinical simulations regarding telehealth in the primary care setting.
“It is important for nursing students to learn about telehealth because it allows healthcare to be delivered without physical and geographical barriers,” said Kinner. “Especially during this pandemic, patients who may be high risk for COVID can still obtain healthcare without having to be in a healthcare facility where they could be exposed to COVID. Furthermore, nurses can focus on patient care and meet a person where he or she is, increasing the convenience to the patient.”
Kinner said the CARES Act funding purchased telehealth equipment for the health clinics at Glenwood, Lodge and Cedar Hall schools so the students and clinic patients can be seen remotely. She credited Alli Flowers and Brandy Sitzman at Deaconess who were instrumental in getting the telehealth equipment installed and running at those clinics.
Kinner is also helping develop a plan to purchase equipment for USI campus apartments and residence halls to monitor students who are isolating because of COVID-19.
Psychiatric Mental Health NP
Telehealth has become a necessary part of students completing clinical hours during the pandemic. Dr. Kathy Riedford, Associate Professor of Nursing, has worked with several sites to use telehealth with her Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner students to accomplish their clinical goals.
“Use of telehealth or telemedicine has expanded healthcare services to many clients who would otherwise be without care. In this time of social restrictions due to consequences of the pandemic, telehealth has been a major benefit to many,” said Reidford. “A great number of students, particularly those in behavioral health specialties, participated in telehealth client visits with preceptors during 2020 clinical experiences. For most of these students, it was a novel experience and innovative way to reach anguished and paranoid clients.”
Two of Reidford’s students had these comments:
“The flexibility provided by telehealth allowed compromised patients to maintain their psychiatric appointments, leading them to receive the help they so desperately sought when they were very reticent to venture into public places.”
“Telehealth visits have been invaluable during this pandemic, especially for clients with conditions that greatly predispose them to COVID-19, as they allow these clients to receive much needed treatment from the safety of home. The wait time for services is lessened significantly, and patients are more satisfied with care provision.”
Dietetics and Dental Hygiene
Students studying dietetics collaborated with dental hygiene students on the use of Healthie, a practice management and telehealth platform. Beth Young, Instructor in Food and Nutrition, provided a one-hour training on the telehealth/virtual care aspects of Healthie for students in Dr. Julie McCullough’s upper-level nutrition Medical Nutrition Therapy course and Emily Holt’s Clinical Application of Periodontology course. The telehealth component was added to the class activity to allow for more social distancing in the Dental Hygiene Clinic and also educate students on the use of this technology.
“One group used the Healthie app to have a dental hygiene student who was in quarantine present during the appointment,” said Holt. “That was a nice way to implement the software and allow the student to have input on the patient’s educational goals for the day.”